Health

Urgent children’s operations including fracture fixes and biopsies cancelled

Hundreds of urgent children’s operations have been cancelled to make way for adult coronavirus patients, it was claimed today.

The procedures — which include biopsies to spot cancer and fracture repairs — were allegedly due to take place at hospitals in London and the Midlands.

They were marked as ‘Priority 2’, which should be done within a month, or ‘Priority 3’, which must be completed within 12 weeks, according to the Health Service Journal.

The Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) claimed ‘Priority 2’ ops were ‘increasingly being cancelled around the country’ because of high pressure from Covid.

‘This is obviously concerning and we need to return to normal operating and to increase capacity as soon as possible,’ said Eric Nicholls, a consultant paediatrician and member of the college.

Hospitals have been under intense pressure during the pandemic, with the number of Covid inpatients this winter surging to around 35,000 in England alone — 80 per cent above the peak of the first wave.

The surging admissions led to whole wards being turned over to treat those suffering from the virus, with thousands of routine operations postponed because there were too few available.

The chief of NHS Providers, Chris Hopson, warned today it could take months for the health service to return to normal because doctors and nurses are exhausted. 

Almost 4.5million people in England were waiting for routine operations such as joint replacements or cataract surgery by December — the highest number since records began. It included nearly 200,000 people who have been on the lists for more than a year. 

Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said it was ‘deeply alarming’ that there were reports of children’s operations being cancelled and warned that they must not now become ‘the forgotten victims of this crisis’.

NHS England data shows 56,000 Covid deaths were recorded in over-60s by January 14 ¿ but only 4,500 in the under-60s. There were 29 in people under 19

NHS England data shows 56,000 Covid deaths were recorded in over-60s by January 14 — but only 4,500 in the under-60s. There were 29 in people under 19

NHS hospitals have been under mounting pressure from surging Covid-19 admissions. Pictured are patients arriving at the Royal London hospital

NHS hospitals have been under mounting pressure from surging Covid-19 admissions. Pictured are patients arriving at the Royal London hospital

DEADLY TOLL OF SCRAPPED CANCER SURGERY 

The devastating toll of the pandemic on cancer patients is laid bare today.

Tens of thousands have missed out on potentially lifesaving treatment, official figures reveal.

Surgery to remove tumours plummeted by one third during the first wave of coronavirus. From April to August some 21,700 fewer patients had cancer surgery than in the same period of 2019, according to Public Health England (PHE).

The number of patients diagnosed with cancer from April to September last year was 35,592, a fall of one quarter compared with 2019 levels.

And in the eight months from April to November, 35,488 fewer patients started cancer treatments including chemotherapy and radiotherapy, down 17 per cent on 2019.

The devastating figures emerged as the head of the NHS said further delays to cancer surgery in recent weeks were a major cause of concern.

Warning over the disruption to children’s services, Mr Nicholls said: ‘Emergency operations including neonatal, trauma and cancer surgery that fall within ‘Priority 1’ and ‘Priority 2’ categories in all children’s surgical specialities have broadly continued during the pandemic. 

‘However, we are now hearing that ‘Priority 2′ cases are increasingly being cancelled around the country, due to increased and prolonged pressure on hospitals from the coronavirus.’ 

He added that doctors and nurses have been pulled off children’s wards to assist with Covid-19 patients at hospitals with both children and adult centres, sparking disruption to procedures.

Staff shortages due to self-isolation and sickness and a lack of available operating theatres has also led to delays, he said.

NHS England told MailOnline 10 ‘specialised networks’ for children’s surgeries had been set up to ensure ‘most procedures’ could go ahead.

‘Even in December as Covid inpatient numbers rose sharply, children’s elective activity was at more than four fifths of its pre-pandemic levels 12 months before,’ a spokesman said. 

Children are the least likely to die from Covid-19 if they catch the disease, an array of scientific evidence has shown since the start of the pandemic.

But they could be put at risk by postponed operations.

Almost 13 times more over-60s had died from the virus in hospitals compared to younger age groups by January 14, NHS England data showed.

There were 56,000 fatalities in the older age group since the pandemic began, but only 4,500 below this bracket. And of these just 29 Covid-19 deaths were in youngsters aged under 19 years old. 

Mr Ashworth said pushing back children’s operations to deal with Covid-19 patients ‘puts children’s health at risk’ and revealed the intense pressure on hospitals.

‘Years of cutbacks, understaffing and underfunding left our NHS vulnerable heading into this pandemic and now swathes of vital non-Covid care are cancelled,’ he said.

‘Children must not become the forgotten victims of this crisis. Child health and well-being must always be a priority.’

Warning the NHS was unlikely to return to normal for months, Mr Hopson told The Guardian hospital chiefs wanted to give doctors and nurses time to recover.

‘There’s potentially quite a tension between giving staff who are completely exhausted the space and support they need to recover, and at the same time the NHS recovering the backlogs of care that have built up, particularly in the hospital sector,’ he said.

A man is taken in a wheelchair away from the Royal London hospital. There have been warnings it could take months for the health service to get back to normal

A man is taken in a wheelchair away from the Royal London hospital. There have been warnings it could take months for the health service to get back to normal

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said staff are 'exhausted'

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said staff are ‘exhausted’

‘What (hospital) chief executives worry about is that the focus is just going to be on the service delivery, about “quickly, quickly quickly, catch up on all of this”.

‘Of course that’s really, really important. [But] how do we balance that with the need to give our staff space to recover and decompress? 

‘That’s a really tricky and difficult issue. These could potentially be conflicting demands for a lot of people (in the NHS).’

He added on Twitter: ‘Over the last few weeks NHS staff have worked at an intense fever pitch, day after day, in a way we’ve never seen before.

‘After a year like no other, trust leaders (are) clear they have to support their staff to recompress and recover.’

Mr Hopson’s comments come after the devastating toll of the pandemic on cancer patients was laid bare today.

Tens of thousands have missed out on potentially lifesaving treatment, official figures revealed.

Surgery to remove tumours plummeted by one third during the first wave of coronavirus. 

From April to August some 21,700 fewer patients had cancer surgery than in the same period of 2019, according to Public Health England (PHE). 

The number of patients diagnosed with cancer from April to September last year was 35,592, a fall of one quarter compared with 2019 levels.

And in the eight months from April to November, 35,488 fewer patients started cancer treatments including chemotherapy and radiotherapy, down 17 per cent on 2019.

The devastating figures emerged as the head of the NHS said further delays to cancer surgery in recent weeks were a major cause of concern.

An estimated 800 cancer operations were cancelled in the first two weeks of January, as hospitals once again postponed thousands of non-Covid treatments.

Sir Simon Stevens told MPs last week that health bosses were ‘most concerned’ about the disruption to cancer surgery. 


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